February 20, 2007

Game On

After a period of quiet after the US and Iraq started implementing their Baghdad security plan, the insurgents have decided to start pushing back. While America still has troops in transit, terrorists struck a US base yesterday, killing two and wounding 17:

In a rare coordinated assault on an American combat outpost north of Baghdad, suicide bombers drove one or more cars laden with explosives into the compound on Monday, while other insurgents opened fire in the ensuing chaos, according to witnesses and the American military. Two American soldiers were killed and at least 17 were wounded.

The brazen attack, which was followed by gun battles and an evacuation of the wounded by American helicopters, was almost surely the work of Sunni militants, most likely Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, according to American and Iraqi officials.

It appeared to be part of a renewed drive by insurgents in recent weeks as more American and Iraqi troops flood the streets of Baghdad and thousands of marines head to western Anbar Province to try to stem the violence. Hundreds of Iraqis have died in a recent wave of car bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Insurgents have been able to shoot down more helicopters through coordinated assaults, captured documents suggest, and American and Iraqi military officials say they are concerned that militants are moving to areas where the American troop presence remains thin.

This attack was unusual in a couple of aspects. First, insurgents do not usually conduct frontal attacks on established defensive positions. This is not because they're not suicidal, because some of them clearly are, but because such attacks do not usually succeed. In this instance, they had to conduct a sort of stacked attack of suicide bombers to breach the defenses, having two car bombs set the stage for a penetrating third blast.

Tarmiya, where this attack occurred, has seen its share of difficulties, thanks to al-Qaeda in Iraq. The local police force bailed out on Tarmiya after an extensive intimidation campaign by AQI drove out not just the police, but also the Shi'ites. The Americans took over security in Tarmiya in order to confront AQI, and it used the abandoned police station as its base. The surge strategy would almost certainly have served to bolster the American contingent in this part of the greater Baghdad area, and AQI knew that it had a short window in which to conduct this attack.

So, this may have more than just a little hint of desperation to it. The US contingent in Tarmiya had made it clear that they intended to do a clear-and-hold operation targeting the AQI elements that had terrorized the community. Fresh troops and an expanded command would certainly arrive within the next few weeks. AQI terrorists had to strike now, rather than wait for the Americans to start attacking them first.

It looks like the US fended off the attack in rather good fashion. The Times reports farther down into the story that the Americans have quarantined Tarmiya. Marc Santora mentions this by way of discussing the fears of residents that needed supplies will be cut off, but it demonstrates that the US retained the initiative after the attack and managed to cut off AQI inside the city.

The surge strategy will result in battles against our enemies, and AQI is one of the highest-priority enemies we face. Battles such as Tarmiya will be the norm rather the exception, and frontal assaults by AQI and other insurgent groups give us the best opportunity to defeat them. It plays to our strengths and attrits their forces in high percentages -- exactly the kind of battle we prefer.


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